December and January were super busy months for us. We were in Europe enjoying the lovely winter weather, followed by a quick zip to Bangkok and then another quick zip to Chiang Mai in January! I’ve just got my wind back to start doing a post. All rested and ready to take on 2013 🙂
So while we’re still in a winter season, I shall start with our winter trip. 10 days’ in December was spent on a beautifully converted river barge where we sailed along the River Rhine. The intended purpose of taking this river cruise was to understand a little more about Christmas, its traditions and to sample the lovely food that the Christmas markets offer during this time.
And a lovely time we did indeed have, especially in the good company of our friends who made the days feel warm, despite the cold weather!
Kudos to Tauck (the tour cruise company) who made sure that the tour ran like clock work but more importantly, that all passengers were made to feel at home. Nothing like returning to a warm and toasty home base from a chilly day out 🙂
There were several stops with lots of time to ‘forage’ into different markets.
Always before a stop, a briefing would be done to all interested about the various traditions as well as what to expect from the place we were to visit the following day. Slowly, the background of Christmas and its traditions came to light:
- The Christmas that is celebrated on the 25th of December was originally celebrated on the 6th of January;
- Christ’s birthday is within a range – no one knows the exact date!
- A Christmas wreath normally with four candles, were always in the churches we visited. The last four Sundays to the run up to Christmas sees a candle lit each week till the last Sunday before Christmas;
- In past centuries, Christmas was actually a time for fasting, much like Lent! I am happy that has changed, being the greedy glutton that I am!
- Santa Claus is a ‘modern’ invention, originating from an issue of Harper’s Weekly in 1862. Santa Claus is actually a take on St. Nicholas, the patron saint of pawnbrokers, sailors, travelers, farmers, bakers, brewers and traders.
We had a good sampling of both German and French Christmas markets and at each town, the food and décor of the towns and villages were different.
It was on this trip that I was introduced to a famous Alsatian dish, Tarte Flambee. A beautifully light ‘pizza’, it is made up of a thin, flaky pastry base topped with crème fraiche, thinly sliced onions and thick bacon chunks. So very delicious!
Starting in Basel where the barge was moored, we stopped at Colmar, Strasbourg, Baden-Baden, Heidelberg and Rudesheim. We sailed through Aachen and finally docked in Cologne.
The Christmas markets apparently last for a good couple of months before closing in January. I thought I would be bored while the barge was sailing in the evenings but Tauck made sure that there was at least an activity or a nightly entertainment to which we could join in. One of these was the decorating of the bare Christmas tree with an ornament that was purchased at any of the markets. Very decent of the cruise director to give each of us a little ornament spending money to get that trinket and which we could then bring home at the end of the cruise!
And when night came, the markets took on a new look. The lights at night turned the town squares into a bejewelled wonderland. The smell of grilled foods and hot gluhwein floated into the air, enticing families over to their stalls to sample the delicious produce.
The meaning of Advent is one of preparation and anticipation. Everywhere we visited, there was an air of preparation and anticipation, of something special about to happen. It would have been nice to stay on for Christmas service but home beckoned. Then again, this is something to plan for in the next trip 🙂 A belated Happy New Year to all readers!